Power Ranking the Best Upcoming UFC Fights

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

Power Ranking the Best Upcoming UFC Fights

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    With nine events already on the UFC docket for 2014, marquee matchups are starting to pick up steam.

    Whether it's Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira or Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barao, more than half of the UFC's titles will be on the line before mid-April.

    That's exciting, especially when you consider the UFC will crown a new welterweight king for the first time in six years.

    With that said, here are the best fights booked for 2014 thus far. Hopefully they can match last year's historic results.

20. Brad Pickett vs. Ian McCall

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    In a flyweight battle featuring Brad Pickett's divisional debut, Ian McCall will be sure to welcome him with open arms and closed fists on March 8.

    As two fighters who love to mix it up early and test their opponents, McCall and Pickett will produce one of the grittiest and gutsiest wars of the year.

    The fact that their showdown at UFC Fight Night 37 in London, England, comes in at No. 20 shows how deep the UFC's early 2014 schedule truly is.

19. Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard

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    In a grappler vs. striker matchup, Jake Shields will try to continue his resurgent welterweight rise by avoiding the power of divisional newcomer Hector Lombard at UFC 171 on March 15.

    With only one titanic knockout under his belt, nobody knows for sure how Lombard is going to fair as he starts battling the best of the best at 170.

    Shields is a great first test, as "Lightning" looks to impress following his destruction of Nate Marquardt back in October.

18. Diego Sanchez vs. Myles Jury

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    Any fight featuring the always bloody Diego Sanchez will be sure to muster massive attention.

    Not for nothing, but his most recent Octagon appearance opposite lightweight standout Gilbert Melendez was one of the best three-round wars ever.

    This time around, Sanchez will try to put Myles Jury's divisional momentum to rest at UFC 171 on March 15. Jury has racked off four straight UFC victories en route to an undefeated 13-0 professional record.

17. John Lineker vs. Ali Bagautinov

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Arguably one of the more underrated bouts of 2014, flyweights John Lineker and Ali Bagautinov will square off at UFC 169 on February 1.

    With two top contenders battling for position to challenge champion Demetrious Johnson by the end of the year, this bout has Fight of the Night written all over it.

    It will be interesting to see if the heavy-handed Lineker can actually make weight. He has missed the 135-pound mark in three out of five UFC appearances.

16. Alexis Davis vs. Jessica Eye

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    Outside of Cat Zingano, the winner of Alexis Davis vs. Jessica Eye will eventually challenge for the UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship.

    Current champ Ronda Rousey has already said she wants to fight as much as possible this year, so Davis or Eye might get a shot sometime in the fall.

    In any case, this is going to be an war at UFC 170 on February 22. Both fighters have exceptional stand-up and unbelievable chins.

15. Stipe Miocic vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

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    Fresh off his upset victory over Roy Nelson at UFC 161, heavyweight rising star Stipe Miocic will try to take out another veteran when he meets red-hot Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC on Fox 10 on January 25.

    As one of the more technical strikers in the division, Miocic will have to play his cards right to circle away from the Brazilian's power—not to mention staying on his feet and avoiding Gonzaga's world-class grappling. 

    This will serve as an opportunity to gauge each heavyweight's future title potential.

14. Luke Rockhold vs. Costa Philippou

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    Luke Rockhold did not impress upon arrival to the UFC. He seemed flustered and out of sorts on his feet opposite the wildly potent Vitor Belfort.

    That means he is going to have to dominant Costa Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35 on January 15 to regain any title considerations he once had.

    As for Philippou, a victory over a well-rounded opponent like Rockhold will right the ship after his recent loss to Francis Carmont.

13. Rory MacDonald vs. Demian Maia

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Elite welterweights Rory MacDonald and Demian Maia are both coming off crushing defeats to end 2013.

    MacDonald was unable to stop the resilient power of Robbie Lawler and seemed almost hesitant to strike in succession, while Maia couldn't do anything against Jake Shields en route to being outgrappled.

    That means this fight has all the fixings to be great. Both guys are looking to get back on track for the new year and relaunch their championship missions at UFC 170 on February 22.

12. Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    When veteran Frank Mir meets former top contender Alistair Overeem at UFC 169 on February 1, somebody is going down.

    As two heavyweights riding disappointing losing streaks, they are essentially fighting for their jobs. Based on recent performances and overall skill, the Dutchman should overpower and overwhelm Mir from the get-go.

11. Ronaldo Souza vs. Francis Carmont

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    In possibly the most interesting bout of 2014, blazing-hot Ronaldo Souza will try to stifle the athleticism and divisional momentum of Tristar standout Francis Carmont.

    They were arguably the two most impressive middleweights in 2013 outside of champion Chris Weidman. A victory for either man at UFC Fight Night 36 on February 15 would instantly land him in any title discussion.

    If Souza can get a hold of Carmont and limit his rangy striking, then the Brazilian should prevail. However, Carmont is strong and shifty enough to make this fight a close one.

10. Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    In one of the best barn-burners on paper this year, welterweight title hopefuls Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley will sling violent leather at UFC 171 on March 15.

    With ultimate No. 1 contender rights and the chance to take on the winner of Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler at stake, Condit and Woodley will be at their very best.

    It will be interesting to see if the strength of "The Chosen One" can match the precision and world-class conditioning of "The Natural Born Killer."

9. Josh Thomson vs. Benson Henderson

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    The only reason why this fight isn't getting the  attention as other main events on this list is because even with a decisive win, Benson Henderson won't get a shot at champion Anthony Pettis.

    His first-round submission loss to Pettis back in August is too fresh, ruling out a 2014 rematch.

    Is it fair? In some ways, sure. But if Henderson destroys the resurgent Josh Thomson at UFC on Fox 10 on January 25, he might deserve a No. 1 contender's bout opposite Gilbert Melendez.

8. Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa

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    People are calling this a tune-up fight for Alexander Gustafsson, but considering Jimi Manuwa's power and budding potential, this is more of a trap fight.

    The fact of the matter is that Manuwa has been one of the more brutally effective strikers in the light heavyweight division over the past two years. Two of his opponents lost via injury, and the other one was unable to continue under doctor's orders.

    That means "The Mauler" is going to have his hands full at UFC Fight Night 37 on March 8. Even if he wins to secures a late 2014 rematch with champion Jon Jones, he may leave the cage as a physically broken man.

7. Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi

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    As a world-class fighter who always flies under the radar, mixed martial arts guru Gegard Mousasi will have his chance to prove his worth when he takes on former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 36 on February 15.

    Mousasi will be making his return to the middleweight division for the first time since 2008 when he knocked out Ronaldo Souza with a vicious upkick. Machida, on the other hand, will be trying to continue his middleweight momentum after nearly decapitating Mark Munoz back in October in his divisional debut.

    This bout carries serious meaning in a division that's finally free of ex-middleweight monarch Anderson Silva. That means that anyone can now make a run at the title.

6. Rashad Evans vs. Daniel Cormier

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    Finally making his light heavyweight debut opposite former champion Rashad Evans at UFC 170 on February 22, Daniel Cormier has one more obstacle in his way before challenging Jon Jones (if he's still the champ) sometime in 2015.

    A victory over Evans would put any doubters at ease as far as considering the elite wrestler a bona fide threat to outmuscle and outhustle the 205-lb king down the road.

    But if Evans wins, he will land a future title shot. Either way, this battle of UFC Tonight co-hosts should be a doozy.

5. Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barao

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    No, it isn't a plane or a comet. It is bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.

    After over a two-year absence from the Octagon, the 28-year-old is finally making his return to the cage to unify the divisional belt opposite interim king Renan Barao at UFC 169 on February 1.

    Now while people have been waiting for this fight for some time, we don't know what Cruz is going to bring on fight night. That's why all expectations should be kept in check.

4. Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

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    Mixed martial arts legend Georges St-Pierre is no longer a factor in the UFC. Well, at least for now.

    That leaves the welterweight throne empty. Who better to fill that gap than the man who seemingly defeated GSP back in November and the man who beat his Canadian successor at the same event?

    What Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler are going to bring to the cage at UFC 171 on March 15 are the mental fortitude, physical demeanor and unwavering punching power to capture the title and keep it.

    It should be one of the most exciting welterweight title fights of all time.

3. Ronda Rousey vs. Sara McMann

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is making a quick turnaround following her third-round submission of Miesha Tate as she aims to defend her title against fellow Olympic standout Sara McMann at UFC 170 on February 22.

    McMann arguably poses the biggest threat to Rousey to date, and that's no exaggeration. She's a very strong wrestler who can get it done wherever the action happens to go.

    If "Rowdy" wants to retain her title and popularity, she'll have to be the best Rousey we've ever seen.

2. Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas

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    Ever since he made his move to featherweight back in 2011, Ricardo Lamas has been crushing opponents.

    With a four-fight win streak under his belt, including finishes over Cub Swanson, Erik Koch and Matt Grice, "The Bully" is going to pressure champion Jose Aldo at UFC 169 on February 1.

    He has the conditioning, power, wrestling and resolve to challenge one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It should be a great featherweight battle to spark Super Bowl weekend.

1. Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira

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    With Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre gone for at least the year, Jon Jones now commands the UFC spotlight.

    And as the promotion's biggest superstar and pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, his title fight with Glover Teixeira at UFC 172 on April 12 rightfully lands at No. 1.

    While the muscular Teixeira looks like a formidable threat on paper, Jones' athleticism and length should once again propel him to victory and set up an end-of-the-year rematch with Alexander Gustafsson.

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